Slave Society

7 July 2016

Slavery done so we do not need to remember it! ” Respond to this statement drawing specific reference to the nature of slave society and how the enslaved fought against their enslavement. Slavery done so we do not need to remember it! ” Respond to this statement drawing specific reference to the nature of slave society and how the enslaved fought against their enslavement. Every society, in the Caribbean or anywhere else, is a product of the particular historical forces that shaped it and gave it form.

For the Caribbean the most impactful historical force was the introduction of slavery and slave societies to the Caribbean and the period thereafter, up until its abolition. Although slavery is done, it is still important that we remember it and those who fought against it for freedom. Slavery refers to a condition in which individuals are owned by another, who control where they live and at what they work. Slavery brings about a particular kind of society as a slave society. (N.

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p, 2009) A slave society is one where the fundamental class conflict is based on the division of people into masters and slaves, with slaves being the dominant producing class, and ownership over this complete commodification of the human being controlled by masters. (Encyclopedia of Marxism)Slave societies were established in the Caribbean by six European powers between 1492 when Columbus discovered the ‘New World’ and the abolition of slavery in the eighteenth century. The most impactful of these European powers were Spain, England, France and Holland upon the socio-economic development of the region.

England eventually succeeded in overpowering the other nations in territorial acquisition. (Shepherd) Having obliterated a vast number of indigenous people in many of the Caribbean islands and conquered their land resources, the Europeans with no intentions of working the land themselves, seeked means of obtaining servile labour as this was seen as the best way to maximize profits from land agriculture and this is what began what was known as the ‘Atlantic Slave Trade’. The Atlantic Slave Trade was the process by which Africans were

brought primarily from the west coast of Africa from places such as Mali, Congo, Senegal, Biafra, and Sierra Leone to the Caribbean and America by Europeans. These Africans were brought over to the Caribbean by very large ships by their enslavers; this trip across the Atlantic Ocean was labeled the “middle passage”, where some of the enslaved Africans died from hunger, diseases, punishment and resistance (Kingston 1992). Slavery was a system maintained through fear and violence. In order for the enslavers to retain supremacy over the slaves in spite of their dying need to obtain freedom, they established certain controls.

“Their principal method was that of “divide and rule”. Members of the same tribe were separated on different plantations to prevent communication between them. The aim behind this was to prevent any plans to rebel if they were together. Slaves were also prevented from practicing their religions. Quite a few slaves were Muslims while many others had their own tribal beliefs. But since the Christian planters saw non-Christians as pagans, they made sure that the slaves could not gather to worship in the way they were accustomed when they lived in Africa.

Another means of control was the creation of a class system among the slaves. Field slaves formed the lowest group, even though some of them had special skills. Then there were the factory slaves who worked in the sugar boiling process. Higher up were the artisan slaves such as blacksmiths, carpenters and masons, who were often hired out by the planters. These slaves also had opportunities to earn money for themselves on various occasions. Still higher up in this class system were the drivers who were specially selected by the White planters to control the other slaves.

The domestic or house slave had a special place in this arrangement, and because they worked in the master’s house and sometimes receiving special favours from the master, they held other slaves in contempt. Usually, the slaves in the lowest rung of this social ladder were the ones who rebelled and often domestic slaves were the ones who betrayed them by reporting the plots to their master. ” (www. guyana. org). As a result of the enslaved Africans in the Caribbean, “wherever there was slavery, there was resistance”. (V. shepherd).

Until recently the role of the African people who resisted enslavement and fought to end slavery in various ways during the Transatlantic Slave Trade had been ignored. It is important to remember that resistance to slavery had a long history. It began in Africa itself when the Africans fought against enslavement and continued on board the ships, during ‘the middle passage’ and also on the plantations. (N. p, 2009) There were different forms of resistances used by the enslaved Africans in the Caribbean cam be broken down into two main categories; violent and non-violent resistances or more formerly active and passive resistance.

There was also marronage which can fall into the category of non-violent resistance whether it was grand, petit or maritime marronage. According to Hilary Beckles “the many slave revolts and plots between 1638 and 1838 could be conceived as the 200 years war”. (Beckles 1991). This was the period where the resistances and revolts used by enslaved Africans was at its peak, enslaved blacks used the various forms of resistances in order to show their dissatisfaction and to establish some form of freedom from their slave masters.

Each expression of resistance by enslaved individuals or groups counted as acts of rebellion against the system of slavery. The many instances of resistance show that slaves were not victims of slavery who accepted their situation. Instead they proved their strength and determination in fighting for their freedom. (Port Cities Bristol) Passive resistance (non-violent resistance) mostly took the form of day-to-day resistance which was the most prevalent form of resistances used by the enslaved blacks because they were not easily detected and when slaves’ resistances were suspected, they were in their final stages.

According to V. Watson, such forms of resistance include: malingering where the enslaved Africans worked slowly and very much below the producing capacity which at harvest time could really affect the profits gained. Other methods employed were; ill-treatment of the animals, with intent to harm or kill which could cost enslaver money to replace, murder by use of poisons or concoctions created by obeah men or some other way used to kill enslavers. Sometimes a slave would feign ignorance by acting stupid, pretending to misunderstand every command given to him or her by their masters.

Many slaves also feigned illnesses to avoid work, in some cases inflicting injury on themselves or prolonging an illness. “Back chatting” to their colonial masters, sabotage as well as singing and chanting were some methods they used to avoid flogging, Mighty Sparrow sang in his song “I am a slave” where he sang “we had to chant and sing to express our feelings to that cruel man, that was the only medicine to make him listen and so calypso began”.

Moreover, Women also had their own unique way of non-violent resistances such as abortion, prolonging their lactation period so that they would not have to do as much work over a longer period of time, as well as abstinence. Violent resistance or armed resistance was used by a minority because of the militia and other forms of deterrence which were put in place by the colonial leaders, as a result of these mechanisms armed resistances were to some extent unsuccessful.

However there was one successful armed resistance in the Caribbean in 1792-1804 where the “black Jacobins” from Haiti over powered their colonial leaders and established the first black republic in the western hemisphere (Beckles 1991). Additionally, Michael Craton stated that the three largest armed revolts were in 1816 in Barbados, 1823 in Guyana and 1831/32 “Christmas rebellion” in Jamaica. According to Verene Shepherd people like “Nanny of the Jamaica maroons, Cuffee of Guyana and Bussa of Barbados were key people in the anti slavery movements by enslaved Africans in the Caribbean”.

Although mechanisms were put in place to deter such armed resistances persons like Bussa of Barbados used the Haitian revolution as a means of inspiration in order to carry out his attack on the plantation owners. Bussa one of Barbados’ national heroes was known as the commander for the biggest armed resistance in the country, it took place in April 1816 when the enslave blacks in Barbados tried to overpower their colonial masters and establish black leadership which they thought would end slavery.

Moreover, on April14 1816 the enslaved blacks of Barbados carried out their attacks on the enslavers, they lit canes all over the island on plantations such as Bayley’s Plantation, history have shown that this attack was well coordinated and planned where the enslave blacks used this time of the year because this was when the canes were at their peak value and burning them would cause the plantation owners to lost a substantial amount of money due to damage.

However, on April 17 Bussa died but this did not stop the other enslave blacks, they carried on until there were overpower and outdone by the militia and other armed forces put in place by the colonial leaders to deter such resistance (Beckles, The 1816 Barbados Revolution). Nanny, a national hero of Jamaica was known by historians as the person who was head of the maroons in the mountains of Jamaica, established a certain kind of unity amongst them that was seen as dangerous towards the whites in the island.

Nanny was also known for her exceptional leadership and military qualities which she instilled in the maroons that enabled them to fight off the British troops during the first maroon war from 1720 to 1739, she was also the organizer of the guerrilla warfare carried out by the eastern maroons, her tactics were so exceptional that she totally bamboozle the British during the guerrilla warfare. Finally when Nanny died she left a sense of freedom and independence with the maroons which they had a right to inherit although they were later over powered by the British.

There was petit marronage, which occurred when the enslaved blacks would escape from their plantations and visit their loved ones as well as take care of their sick parents and then return to the plantation after some period of time. Then there was grand marronage, this was most prevalent in the more mountainous islands such as Jamaica and Guyana where the enslaved blacks would escape from their colonial masters and hideaway in the mountains and form their own culture and way of life.

Additionally, there was also maritime marronage, this was found in islands such as Barbados where the enslaved blacks would escape from their plantations and use sloops to get to other close mountainous islands such as St. Vincent and hideaway in the mountains there (Beckles 1986). As a result of these forms of resistances, the enslaved blacks formed their own communities in the mountainous areas and were determined to be free men and women and they were therefore called ‘maroons’.

In conclusion it was clearly seen that the enslaved Africans has always resisted slavery, from the shores of Africa, throughout their horrible trips across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and continued with it when they got there. It was because of these resistances used by the enslaved Africans that help speed up the emancipation processes where armed revolts were the major contributors in French San Domingue where the enslaved blacks fought off their enslavers and declared the abolition of slavery and establish the republic of Haiti (V. Sheperd).

In addition, slave writers like Esteban Montejo’s wishes would have come true when he wrote “I hope the slave trade would be abolished. I pray it may be an even at hand” (ibid p 177) and Mary Prince when she published an autobiography, narrated the horrors of slavery and her desire “greatly to get my freedom” (Beckles and Shepherd pp 13-15). Finally, it is thus important to remember slavery as all Caribbean islands in the 20th century would have benefitted from these slave resistances where most of them now have established some form of independence with the latest islands being Curacao and St. Maarten.

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